Things to know about Maria Ressa

Maria Ressa made history again for the Philippines when she was awarded the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize, alongside Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov. Her win signifies a lot of things – it is a feat not only for her courageous work as a journalist but also for the Philippines as well, as she is also the first Filipino to have received a Nobel.

Her decades-long career speaks for itself as well, so if you’ve been curious to get to know more about her work before she became the Nobel laureate she is today, here are 10 facts about the indomitable journalist, including her childhood days in the Philippines and her stint at CNN.

1. She grew up in the Philippines in her early childhood years, then moved to the United States

Maria Ressa - St. Scholastica
Image credit: Maria Ressa 

Born in 1963 and a dual citizen of the Philippines and the United States, Ressa spent her early childhood days in the Philippines where she studied at St. Scholastica’s College, Manila.

Maria Ressa - Toms River School
Image credit: Toms River Regional Schools/ NJ

When she was 10, her family moved to the United States after martial law was declared in the Philippines by Ferdinand Marcos. In an interview with BBC’s Lyse Doucet, she touched on her struggle to blend with the ways of a new country. “I landed in New Jersey, where I could barely speak English, and I had to figure out what a short brown kid was going to do in this big white world,” she said, as cited in a BBC article.

Her high school years were spent studying at Toms River High School North in New Jersey. In her yearbook photo, a caption under her name casually details what she was like during her adolescent years, including her dreams to conquer the world.

Maria Ressa Princeton
Image credit: The Daily Princetonian

College saw her studying at the prestigious Ivy League university, Princeton, where she pursued an undergraduate degree in English and studied molecular biology and theater before graduating in 1986.

Going back to her roots, she was awarded a Fulbright fellowship under which she pursued her graduate studies at the University of the Philippines Diliman.

2. Her work focused on terrorism when she was a CNN reporter

Maria Ressa CNN
Image credit: Maria Ressa

Her early days as a journalist were spent at local networks PTV4 and Probe before she went international. One of the highlights of her career, for instance, includes her decades-long stint at CNN, which saw her overseeing CNN’s Manila Bureau from 1987 to 1995, then Jakarta’s bureau from 1995 to 2005.

Maria Ressa CNN
Image credit: Maria Ressa

Along the way, she was also CNN’s lead investigative reporter on terrorism in Southeast Asia. She wrote two books on the matter, Seeds of Terror: An Eyewitness Account of al-Qaeda’s Newest Center of Operations in Southeast Asia and From Bin Laden to Facebook: 10 Days of Abduction, 10 Years of Terrorism.

3. She traced the connection between the 9/11 attacks and Southeast Asia

9/11: The Philippine connection
play button
9/11: The Philippine connection

Video credit: ABS-CBN News/ Rappler

She also worked on a documentary connecting the dots between terrorist attacks that happened across many countries in Southeast Asia and the 9/11 attacks by the militant Islamist terrorist group al-Qaeda in the United States.

The documentary is comprehensive, including several interviews with Philippine military generals, Philippine and Indonesian government officials, non-government organizations, and a former member of Islamist extremist organization Jemaah Islamiyah.

4. She was once the head of ABS-CBN News & Current Affairs

Maria Ressa - ABS-CBN
Image adapted from: ABS-CBN News

Beginning her foray as a leader in local media organizations in the Philippines, she became the news head in 2005 of the largest network in the country, ABS-CBN. She took the network’s news operations to new heights after overseeing its transition from the broadcast era to the digital times.

One of her notable works in the network was the creation of Boto Mo iPatrol Mo (BMPM) citizen journalism campaigns for the 2007 and 2010 general Philippine elections. The campaigns encouraged citizens to check for wrongdoings in the election processes in their communities.

Six years after managing the network, she left in 2011.

5. She’s been leading Rappler’s investigative work in tracing sources of disinformation online

Maria Ressa - disinformation work
Image credit: Rappler

After her years at ABS-CBN, she established the online news site Rappler in 2012 along with three female journalists. Despite starting small, the website has become one of the biggest news outlets in the Philippines. But growing its reach was not without hurdles along the way, as it started receiving criticism from the government in 2016, the year after President Rodrigo Duterte was elected president, due to its investigative work on how various networks of troll armies spread disinformation on Facebook.

For instance, Ressa herself has written a piece in 2016 about how Facebook algorithms impacted the 2016 Philippine elections. In it, she explored how bots, fake accounts, and anonymous pages took advantage of Facebook’s algorithms to amplify their messages.

6. She’s been arrested several times and has posted bail ten times

Maria Ressa - arrest
Image credit: NAIA Media Affairs Division

Many legal cases have been filed against Ressa, Rappler, as well as its staff under the Duterte administration.

As a result, she has been arrested several times, at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport and Rappler newsroom, for instance, and has posted bail ten times. As of August 2021, there are at least 7 active cases pending in court against her and her news organization.

7. Despite everything, she has garnered the support of the international community

Maria Ressa - Yale University
Image credit: Yale Journal of International Affairs

Despite the cases and arrests in the Philippines, she has garnered the support of international communities in various parts of the world. Aside from being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, she has also been named as one of Time Magazine’s 2018 Person of the Year and among BBC’s 100 most inspiring and influential women of 2019, among her many other awards.

Maria Ressa - international community
Image credit: @mariaressa, @maria_ressa

Figures such as Hillary Clinton and Amal Clooney have also been supportive of Ressa and her work. Clooney, for instance, has joined Ressa’s legal team.

8. She can stand on a skateboard

Maria Ressa - skateboard hobby
Image credit: @maria_ressa

Behind all the seriousness of her work, she also knows how to have fun. Skateboarding has been one of her favorite hobbies, as shown by her photo, where she is standing on a skateboard, on Instagram.

She captioned the photo with the following:  “More than 30 years since I skateboarded. Such fun. Thanks for the photo, Martin, and Alecs, huge board. I miss the little flip tail.”

9. She likes to document her travels through casual photography

Maria Ressa - travel photo
Grand Central Terminal in New York City, and Myeongdong in Seoul, South Korea
Image credit: @maria_ressa, @maria_ressa

A frequent flyer, Ressa has been to many countries in the world for various professional events.

In between her international affairs, she likes to document the places she’s traveling in through casual photos that she posts on her social media accounts.

10. She dedicates her Nobel Peace Prize to all journalists

Maria Ressa - Nobel
Illustration by Niklas Elmehed, Nobel Prize Outreach.
Image credit: Nobel Prize

For her, her Nobel win is not just an affirmation of Rappler’s work in fighting for press freedom in the Philippines, but also of the work of all journalists doing their jobs. “This is really for all journalists around the world,” Ressa said in an AFP interview as documented in an article of New Delhi Television. 

She also acknowledged that journalists need as much help as they can get, given the difficulty of being one in this day and age. “We do need help on so many fronts — it is so much more difficult and dangerous to be a journalist today,” Ressa said.

Maria Ressa, 2021 Nobel Peace Prize Winner

Fighting the good fight can be costly and may require a ton of sacrifice, but for Ressa, steadfast in her commitment to do her work as a journalist, the truth is all worth it.

Kudos to Maria Ressa, and may her win be a reminder of the importance of safeguarding a country’s democracy.

Also check out:

Cover image adapted from: Maria Ressa, @maria_ressa, and Maria Ressa

Drop us your email so you won't miss the latest news.